The City of San Antonio took a big step forward Wednesday toward implementing a major pilot project to address the problem of vacant buildings and residences in the center city and historic neighborhoods. An ordinance approving the pilot project will be voted on by City Council at its June 12 meeting.
City Council, with Mayor Julián Castro absent, was given a lengthy briefing at its Wednesday B Session on the proposed pilot program by Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development Office, and Shanon Shea Miller, director of the city’s Office of Historic Development. Rivard Report readers can view the presentation here, and read the proposed ordinance here.
Wednesday B Sessions, which are less formal than Thursday meetings and usually are limited to briefings and discussions of new initiatives and major policy matters, can now be viewed remotely on TVSA. Cable viewers can watch, too. Time Warner Cable: Ch. 99-21, Grande Cable: Ch. 20. AT&T U-verse: Ch. 99. The sessions will be broadcast live each Wednesday, rebroadcast weekdays at 8 a.m. and be archived online on the city’s website.
Houston and Miller said there are an estimated 800 vacant structures in the target area that would be addressed in the year-long pilot project that would start Jan. 1, 2015. After that initial “learning experience,” staff would be extend the program citywide since each district has blighted commercial corridors or other vacant building issues that contribute to crime rates, lower adjacent property values, diminish the quality of life, and pose health and safety hazards.
The problem is most evident downtown where some buildings have sat vacant for years, with broken windows and plywood-covered doors and windows, and a general lack of maintenance and upkeep contributing to a sense of neglect, abandonment and property deterioration in the urban core. Weak codes, private property rights and low county tax evaluations enable absentee owners to avoid the cost of upkeep while sometimes waiting decades for buyers or development opportunities.
“All of us are frustrated the way some property owners are using our downtown as a safe deposit box,” District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal said. “These issues have plagued our city for decades.”
Bernal and District 2 City Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, whose district includes many vacant and abandoned houses less than one mile from downtown, have been the two most vocal advocates for the pilot program and new ordinance.
“It is definitely long overdue,” Taylor said. “I am personally excited to see us move in this direction…I very much endorse this aggressive approach.”
None of the Council members voiced opposition to the ordinance. Once it passes, city staff will plan for creation this summer of a Vacant Building Advisory Task Force of “experts from the City and County, title professionals, attorneys, and other stakeholders who can provide assistance or direction on title searches, tax foreclosures, legislative amendments, municipal amendments and other issues.”
The City will partner with the San Antonio Bar Association’s Community Justice Program to “provide pro bono services for property owners regarding tax foreclosure, title issues, or other real estate matters.” The City will work with Centro San Antonio and the San Antonio Conservation Society to establish a “Downtown Endangered Buildings” campaign that will focus public attention on the program and vacant buildings that everyone hopes will be sold or redeveloped and once again be put into use.
To read more details about the pilot program and its mix of incentives and enforcement tools intended to change the behavior patterns of vacant building owners and bring properties back to life, read Pilot Program Takes Aim at Downtown Vacant Buildings.
*Featured/top image: A large, historical home sits vacant on Nolan Street in District 2, right across the street from Dignowity Park in June 2013. Photo by Iris Dimmick.